The Allure of The Miniseries

Nick Nolte, Susan Blakely and Peter Strauss of “Rich Man – Poor Man”

From Rich Man, Poor Man to Bridgerton we love the the miniseries, a concept that has Roots in the earliest days of Television.

Anthology series were the highbrow, high budget showcases during Golden Age of Television, Most were stand-alones, rarely split into episodes. 1955’s  Mr. Lincoln from Omnibus and For Whom the Bell Tolls from Playhouse 90 were exceptions. The big budgets killed the anthology concept as the 1950s decade came to an end.

The surprising success of the  26-episode serial The Forsyte Saga (1967) on PBS in 1969–1970 reawakened TV exec’s interest in the viability of the miniseries.

James Read & Patrick Swayze – North and South.

Irwin Shaw‘s Rich Man, Poor Man was the first significant commercial TV spin-up, broadcast in 12 one-hour episodes in 1976 by ABC. The ratings success initiated the age of the miniseries.

Alex Haley‘s Roots (1977), broadcast during a weather event that kept many viewers indoors, became the first mega success. The eight episode  program, broadcast on consecutive nights grew in viewership every night, with a  finale that garnered a 71 percent share of the audience and 130 million viewers. Roots was the most watched television program up to that time. 1977’s Jesus of Nazareth, and North and South, the 1985 adaptation of a 1982 novel by John Jakes, followed.

140 million of us watched The Winds of War in 1983. Five year later, the sequel War and Remembrance won Emmys for best miniseries, special effects and single-camera production editing, and was considered by some critics the ultimate epic miniseries on the American television. Despite critical acclaim, the $105 million program failed in the ratings. By then Cable and VCRs were grabbing viewer attention.

The popularity of streaming series, where we can binge on an entire season in a weekend speaks to the enduring popularity of the miniseries; a reminder that great stories still can find an audience.

Today in History:

1937: 44-day sit-down strike at General Motors in Flint Michigan ends.
1938: ‘The Big Broadcast of 1938‘ is released. The star is WC Fields, but it’s the first major film appearance for comedian Bob Hope. He sings his signature song, ‘Thanks for the Memory’ with Shirley Ross.
1957: Patsy Cline releases ‘Walking After Midnight.’
1960: With four minutes left in the program, Jack Paar walks off his NBC TV show after the network complains about his monologue. Huge Downs, the show’s announcer takes over.
1963: The Beatles record ten new songs for their first album plus four other tracks which would be the next two singles in less than 10 hours. John Lennon’s vocal on The Isley Brothers ‘Twist & Shout’ was recorded in one take to complete the album.
1964: The Beatles make their live concert debut in the US at the Washington Coliseum. Over 350 police surrounded the stage to keep the 8,000 plus screaming fans in control.
1967: The Monkees set a new record when their second album, More Of The Monkees jumped from No.122 to the top of the US chart. The album then stayed in pole position for eighteen weeks.

Peter Sellers & Ringo Starr in “The Magic Christian”

1970: The Magic Christian starring Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr and featuring Badfinger’s ‘Come and Get It‘ premieres in New York.
1972: Led Zeppelin scored their third US Top 20 hit single with ‘Black Dog / Misty Mountain Hop’, peaking at No.15, and taken from their fourth album. The song’s title is a reference to a nameless black Labrador retriever that wandered around the Headley Grange studios during recording. Robert Plant recorded his vocal for the track in two takes.
1982: ABC-TV’s presentation of ‘The Winds of War’ concluded. The 18-hour miniseries cost $40 million to produce and was the most-watched television program in history at the time.

Whitney Houston

1982: The Rolling Stones Let’s Spend the Night Together, a concert film from their 1981 tour, opens in New York to miserable reviews.
1983: Bob Seger‘s The Distance is certified Platinum.
1989: Paula Abdul started a three week run at No.1 on the US singles chart with ‘Straight Up’, the first of three No.1’s in 1989.
1998: The hand-written lyrics to ‘Candle in the Wind’ by Bernie Taupin were auctioned off at Christie’s in LA for $385,000.
2006: Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot and wounded a Harry Whittington who ends up in intensive care at a Corpus Christi hospital after being hit by several pellets of birdshot, during a weekend quail-hunting trip in Texas.
2008: Heather Mills and Sir Paul McCartney appeared at the High Court in London for a hearing to reach a financial settlement for their divorce.
2009: Ronettes singer Estelle Bennett dies at her home in Englewood, N.J. She was 67. The 60s girl group best known for their work with producer Phil Spector had the 1963 hit ‘Be My Baby’.
2012: Whitney Houston is found dead in suite 434 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, submerged in the bathtub. Beverly Hills paramedics arrived at approximately 3:30 p.m. and found the singer unresponsive and performed CPR. Houston was pronounced dead at 3:55 p.m. Local police said there were no obvious signs of criminal intent.” It was later ruled by the coroner to have been an ‘accidental drowning’.”
2013: Rick Huxley (bassist for The Dave Clark Five) dies at age 72 after a long struggle with emphysema.

Today’s Birthdays:

Sheryl Crow

1847: Thomas Alva Edison (.d 1931)
1909: Joseph L. Mankiewicz (d. 1993)
1917: Sidney Sheldon, American novelist and playwright (Master of the Game, Bloodline, The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer), born in Chicago, Illinois (d. 2007)
1919: Eva Gabor (Green Acres, Gigi), born in Budapest, Hungary (d. 1995)
1934: Tina Louise, American actress (Ginger-Gilligan’s Island, Julie-Dallas), born in NYC, New York.
1936: Burt Reynolds, American actor (Deliverance, Evening Shade, Strip Tease, Cannonball), born in Lansing, Michigan (d. 2018).
1939: Gerry Goffin, American songwriter of over 20 US hits with his then wife Carole King, including The Shirelles ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’, The Drifters ‘Up On The Roof’, The Chiffons, ‘One Fine Day’, Herman’s Hermits, ‘I’m Into Something Good’. (.d 2014)
1940: Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett (‘The Monster Mash’). (d. 2007).
1941: Sergio Mendes (Brazil 66, 77 etc).
1942: Archie Andrews, comic book character (Archie).
1949: Scott Morgan (The Rationals)
1962: Sheryl Crow, US singer, songwriter, who had the 1994 US No.2 & UK No.4 single ‘All I Wanna Do’, 1993 album ‘Tuesday Night Music Club’. Crow worked as a backing singer on the Michael Jackson ‘Bad’ tour.
1969: Jennifer Aniston (Rachel-Friends).
1971: Damian Lewis (Band of Brothers).

Much More Music: 

Disney premiered the Annette mini-series on the Mickey Mouse Club this week in 1957. Annette Funicello released 4 singles as a solo act. “O Dio Mio”, “First Name Initial”, “Tall Paul” and “Pineapple Princess.” Dick Clark was impressed. (Video)

It’s Cake Day for  Scott Morgan of The Rationals. The band’s cover of Otis Redding’s Respect had a Beatles feel and cracked the Hot 100 in 1966. Perhaps the version we remember best is Aretha Franklin’s monster 1967 hit. Motown’s supremes also recorded the tune. Here are the Rationals performing Respect on Robin Seymour’s Swingin Time. (Video)

Jr. Walker and the All-Stars

Looking through my WKNR Music Guides: Shotgun, Jr. Walker and the All-Stars biggest hit debuted at No. 29 on WKNR today in 1965. The tune will peak at No. 8 on March 3. Here they are, performing it live on Hullabaloo. Trivia: Jr. Walker played with the band Foreigner for a time in the 1980s.

Mary Wilson’s Detroit Duplex

Here’s the former duplex home of the late Mary Wilson, 4099 Buena Vista Street in the Russell Woods neighborhood in Detroit. Choreographer Cholly Atkins lived on the other side and rehearsed The Four Tops and The Temptations in the basement. Rock journalist and author, Susan Whitall remembers, “All three Supremes bought homes on the street. Coincidentally, it’s the same street where Dinah Washington lived with her husband, Dick “Night Train” Lane of the Detroit Lions. Mary said she bought this duplex right next to the main house that she inhabited.”

Linda Ronstadt’s cover of the Betty Everett classic ‘You’re No Good,” is number one on this date in 1975. That’s Andrew Gold on guitar.

Thanks for listening!

Scott Westerman
Host and Producer – Rock and Roll Revisited
Author: Motor City Music – Keener 13 and the Soundtrack of Detroit